State: District 113A Must Pay Back More Than $328K in 'Unallowable' Transportation Reimbursements
District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker cited a "breakdown in communication" as the reason board members were not immediately informed of a transportation audit adjustment for a 2008-2009 claim.
Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A must repay more than $328,000 to the state after receiving "unallowable transportation reimbursements" for claims made during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, district officials said.
District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker and Business Manager Barbara Germany presented information to school board members Tuesday night regarding a transportation audit conducted by the Illinois State Board of Education. According to the audit, the district received reimbursements for its 2008-2009 transportation claim that are "not allowable" by the state.
Reimbursements totaled $305,056 for regular transportation and $23,900 for special education transportation, according to district officials. The money was received by District 113A during the 2009-2010 school year, based on the state's procedure for disbursing transportation funds.
According to Ricker, transportation reimbursements are paid the year after claims are made. Audits, should they be required, are conducted the year after payments are received.
Germany said the state's auditor found a number of issues with the 2008-2009 claim, including inaccurate reporting of student enrollment, non-reimbursable salaries for an emergency operator and administrative assistant, an understatement of fuel money received from the Lemont Park District and a lack of documentation for a conference attended by the district's transportation director.
According to the state, District 113A also incorrectly documented bus leases during the accounting process, which was the most significant reason for the adjustment, Germany said.
An ISBE auditor was sent to the district in February 2011 to look through claims with then Interim Business Manager Jay Tovian, Ricker said. The auditor verbally shared her findings with the administration Feb. 3-4.
At the time, the indication from the state was that the district would receive a final report on the audit findings once it went through the ISBE Funding and Disbursement Services Department, Ricker said.
According to Ricker, a letter regarding the audit adjustment was received Aug. 29. At that point, he claims he delegated the report to Germany.
Board members were not informed of the audit adjustment until earlier this month, when the administration received a follow-up email from the state asking how the district planned to pay back the reimbursements.
During Tuesday's meeting, Ricker blamed himself for a "breakdown in communication" that ultimately caused the oversight.
"I submitted the letter to [Germany] and delegated that," Ricker said. "I'm not throwing her under the bus ... I accept full responsibility for a miscommunication from an internal standpoint."
Based on information provided by state officials, District 113A has two options for paying back the $305,056: pay the amount in full or adjust the district's transportation reimbursements over the next three years.
Because the administration does not think the first option is "financially doable," Ricker said his recommendation would be to take a conservative approach and adjust claims over the next three years.
Using this method, the district will not have to use any existing funds, but will need to make reductions in excess of $100,000 to its transportation claims over the next three years. The exact figures were not available Tuesday night.
District 113A is still waiting on the state for direction on the special education reimbursements, Ricker said.
Ricker also told board members that all of the money received from the state is present and accounted for in the district's transportation fund, and that the adjustment will not result in any immediate cuts.
Germany, who said she has dealt with audit adjustments in previous school districts, said she is already planning to change the district's process for making transportation claims to ensure 100-percent accuracy.
In previous years, former Business Manager Bob Beckwith, who was working for the district when the mistakes were made, was the only one looking at the district's transportation claims. Moving forward, Germany said she will work with Pam Mazurek, director of operations for District 113A, to review all claims sent to the state.
Now that the board has discussed the audit adjustment, Ricker said he will contact Deb Vespa, ISBE division administrator for business services, about whether the issue will impact the district's financial plan.
An updated version of the plan was approved Dec. 7 by a 4-3 vote. Board President Mike Aurelio and Board Members Karen Siston and Al Malley cast the dissenting votes.
Per the request of the board, the administration will also review their past two claims to be sure everything is accurate and allowable by the state.